Scared, human? Emotion-detection AI meets eye-tracking technology

A big new merger will help machines decode how you're feeling with alarming accuracy.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

One of the hallmarks of the human condition is empathy. So what happens when machines become adept at knowing how you're feeling?

That reality is closer than ever after an eye-tracking AI company has agreed to acquire emotion-detection software firm. Smart Eye and Affectiva announced that they have entered into an agreement in which Smart Eye will acquire Affectiva for $73.5 million.

The acquisition is a bid to secure a dominant position in the automotive industry, which has been aggressively adopting emotion-detection AI to improve the driving experience. Both companies have made inroads with OEM manufacturers (Smart Eye has contracts with 12 of the 20 largest global OEMs), but the space is increasingly competitive as Driver Monitoring Systems (DMS) become standard on high-end models and increasingly make their way into mid-market offerings.

"As we watched the DMS category evolve into Interior Sensing, monitoring the whole cabin, we quickly recognized Affectiva as a major player to watch," says Martin Krantz, Founder and CEO of Smart Eye. "Affectiva's pioneering work in establishing the field of Emotion AI has served as a powerful platform for bringing this technology to market at scale. At the end of the day, this is about saving lives and bridging the gap between humans and machines. In the future, looking back at this moment in time, I am convinced that this is a decisive moment for road safety thanks to the announcement that we have made today."

Affectiva spun out of MIT Media Lab in 2009 with a goal of advancing machine learning and computer vision to gain a deep, human-centric understanding of how people are feeling, useful data for car companies.

But if automotive is where the money is at the moment, there's every chance the technology could quickly spread to adjacent industries. Affectiva already has a booming media analytics business and is used by 70 percent of the world's largest advertisers, according to a spokesperson. Smart Eye is similarly used in human factors research to better understand human behavior. It's not far-fetched to imagine the technology playing a crucial role in the rise of social robots in the near future.

"We are thrilled to be merging with Smart Eye as the next step in Affectiva's journey. This is a unique and exciting opportunity for us to join Smart Eye in bringing to market advanced AI with more comprehensive capabilities than either of us could provide alone," says Dr. Rana el Kaliouby, Co-Founder and CEO of Affectiva. "Not only are our technologies very complementary, so are our values, our teams, our culture, and perhaps most importantly, our vision for the future. We share a conviction that the AI we are building now will one day become ubiquitous. It will be built into the fabric of the technologies we use in our daily lives and will forever change the way we interact with technology and each other in a digital world."

Even if you keep your emotional cards close to the vest, AI-enabled technology may soon have your number.

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